By on August 30, 2018

fuel gauge vintage

Considering that the Trump administration’s Safer and Affordable Fuel Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles proposal specifically calls for the revocation of California’s power to set its own emissions rules, it’s miraculous that the Golden State is still willing to discuss the issue. But here we are.

Administration officials and members of the California Air Resources Board (CARB) emerged from a meeting on Wednesday, saying they were working toward resolving their differences over vehicle emissions, interested in establishing a single national standard, and — get this — would be happy to meet again. 

CARB has proposed maintaining strict Obama-era rules that call for rising fuel efficiency requirements annually through 2025, while SAFE seeks to freeze national vehicle emissions standards at 2020 levels through 2026. The pair are absolutely opposed on the issue. However, according to Reuters, California’s air chief, Mary Nichols, said she could see a potential window to make a deal this fall.

While that sounds implausible if the current administration is successful in revoking California’s ability to set its own standards, the state has already set itself up for a legal battle. In May, Seventeen states (led by California) announced a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency. The suit alleges that the EPA’s decision to roll back Obama-era standards was conducted in an arbitrary and capricious manner.

As the largest U.S. auto market in the United States, the region also has some bargaining might behind it. If the federal government fails to stop California from self-regulating, it would severely complicate things for the automotive industry. Automakers want looser emissions standards because it’s cheaper for them to adhere to and should better serve existing consumer trends, but they don’t want them at the expense of varied regulatory hurdles. For carmakers, almost any national standard would be better than having to treat one third of the market differently.

California doesn’t appear to have changed its tune and remains set on tightening state vehicle emissions rules after 2020. But the mere fact that it’s issuing joint statements with the current administration and is open to further discussions seems to indicate potential wiggle room coming from one or even both parties. Perhaps we’ll see how that manifests, as Nichols suggested, in the fall.

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16 Comments on “White House and California Still Discussing Emission Rules, Incredibly...”


  • avatar
    SD 328I

    California and the other 13 states that follow CARB make up 40% of new vehicle sale and 50% of the revenue. They have much more than “some bargaining might behind it”

    They have all the leverage in the World, which is why Washington is still talking to them, because no matter what happens, the manufacturers are going to build to what CARB demands and apply it to the rest of the country.

    The manufacturers have regretted opening this can of worms, with most having done a complete reversal.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      Automakers will continue building exactly what consumers want, no matter what. The only difference is how much they would have to pay in fines to CARB states, if CARB has its way.

      This hasn’t been about emissions for a long time. The CARB, which is redundant to the EPA, mostly wants to stay in business.

      • 0 avatar
        ect

        Automakers have been working to simplify production variables since forever – for very good economic reasons. They are unlikely to build 2 versions of everything to differentiate between CARB and non-CARB states. The easiest route is to build everything to comply with the highest standard.

  • avatar
    CoastieLenn

    Perhaps I don’t really truly understand the entirety of this. What’s California’s reprisal if the administration doesn’t budge and says “Sorry, your self regulating days are over”? California will never be able to take a stance of “we won’t allow new cars to be sold in our state until our abilities are restored” so what’s the holdup? Even if they did take this stance, the 1%’ers of California will not allow it to stand long (and the state administrations know this). The high classes can’t be bothered to take the time to purchase a car out of state and they CERTAINLY won’t buy used….

    If this makes things easier for manufacturers- which by extension makes cars nation wide cheaper, why is this such an issue? I understand that California as a whole generally views itself as superior to the rest of the United States and wants to march to the beat of it’s own drum, but that’s not how a nation works. They’re not a free state.

    • 0 avatar
      Astigmatism

      California’s reprisal is that they take the EPA to court, where the EPA has been on a Cleveland Browns-like losing streak since Pruitt started rolling back or suspending regulations. Large organizations don’t like the uncertainty of litigation, so both sides are trying to avoid it if they can, but the last year or so of court decisions give California a strong hand here.

    • 0 avatar
      ect

      I am not a constitutional lawyer, but my understanding has generally been that states, in areas of shared constitutional authority, may not diminish federal standards but are free to adopt stricter standards than those set by federal law.

    • 0 avatar
      HotPotato

      California regulated emissions years before the Feds. So their ability to set their own standard is grandfathered in. The Feds would have been smart to just adopt California’s standards, as most Northeastern states did.

  • avatar
    thelaine

    It is miraculous that the Trump administration is still willing to talk to California about this.

  • avatar
    incautious

    Its about time the tail stops wagging the dog. In the 60’s and 70’s yes it was needed, but the brown haze that enveloped LA is long gone. To give an example how extreme the snowflakes in California are, just look at the dead vegetation .Dead brush and 120 Million dead trees which fuel the huge wildfires and yet the amount of red tape to go out and clear this can be staggering.

    • 0 avatar
      Astigmatism

      Ironically those huge wildfires are driven by the emissions California is trying to regulate. The jet stream is significantly weaker this year, which has led to stalled weather patterns in California (and everywhere else), and peak fire seasons across the western US have been expanding rapidly as the planet warms and climate changes.

      Which actually makes a pretty handy basis for California to claim they’re uniquely affected by emissions in a manner that justifies their ability to impose their own auto emissions standards under the Clean Air Act.

    • 0 avatar
      Yankee

      You are incorrect about the need. Vehicle pollution still accounts for 75% of all US CO emissions and 50% of VOCs, NOx, and particulate emissions. This effect is magnified in city centers, where vehicle emissions account for between 50 and 90 percent of all air pollution. Leaving the environmental damage aside for the moment, this is a health and safety issue as these gasses are all directly harmful to people. While modern vehicles produce an estimated 98% less tailpipe pollution than they did in 1960, the sheer volume increase in vehicles on the road since then has negated the effect and the problem is actually getting worse. This is why ever-tightening emissions standards are still needed to push innovation by manufacturers that they have proven they can deliver if they have to.

      • 0 avatar
        SPPPP

        Yankee, your math isn’t working out too well there. Based on FHA statistics that I looked up, there are roughly 4 times as many registered vehicles in the US today as there were in 1960. They seem to drive a little less than 4 times as many miles (probably because more families have a second or third car these days, which gets relatively less use).

        So if the cars are 98% cleaner, meaning they put out 1/50 of the pollution, but they are driving 4x more, then the total pollution should be 4/50 of what it was in 1960. Or, just 8% of what it was.

        The total pollution put out by the national vehicle fleet is probably still decreasing as older cars and trucks come off the road, though the rate of improvement would of course slow if the rate of toughening standards slows.

        Anyway, to say the “sheer volume increase … has negated the effect” seems a little misleading if 92% of the effect is still … in effect.

  • avatar
    Whittaker

    “We need cleaner cars!” California shouts as their mismanaged and burning forests spew particulates, toxins and (gasp) CO2.


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